Lear’s Relinquishment of Power in Shakespeare’s King LearKing Lear is an actor who can only play the king. Thus, after he has abdicated his throne, passing the authority to his posterity, he still demands respect and power, which he is unable to claim from any of his former subjects, even his daughters. And as a king with no kingdom, he is an actor with no role to play, the most loathsome of all conditions. Lear himself realizes this, and in scene 4, he cries: “Why, this is not Lear” (4.204). And later in the same speech, he says: “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (4.209). Lear is stuck in his role as king, unable to act in any other manner and powerless to provide for himself, causing the ultimate downfall of he and his family from their status of authority.
As the play opens in the first scene, King Lear uses his authority to divide the kingdom. However, this is a power that not even the king possesses; no one may divide the kingdom. Per the divine right of the king, Lear is in control and must remain so; he cannot pass the powers of the throne to anyone, save his heir, and then only following his death. Yet, Lear contradicts his divine right and divides the kingdom. In this action, “authority is not destroyed but split between those with the greatest claims to land and wealth” (Spotswood 280). The authority transfers to Goneril and Regan, as Lear no longer has a claim having resigned his reign. But even though he has no claim, Lear still wants to play his kingly role. So then, the major problem of King Lear is that after he has relinquished control of the kingdom, he still desires to rule in principle, though not in deed:
Only we still retainThe name and all th…
…rature 40 (2000): 241-60.
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Note—all Shakespeare text is quoted from The Norton Shakespeare. In the case of Lear, all quotations are from The History of King Lear which contains scene numbers, but no act numbers.